The first time I saw him spar competitively, I kept stepping to the edge of the ring and leaning forward, as if to pounce. Each time the glove made contact with his face forcefully enough to snap his head backward, the mother bear in me wanted to wrap his opponent up in a headlock and make him cry uncle… or just cry. My son would not have appreciated that.
“Your mama bear can be scary sometimes, even when it’s on my side.” He gently told me that as a ten-year-old, when he wanted to handle problems he was having with boys in a new school, and I wanted to take the matter into my own hands. I’ve been sure ever since to ask if he wants my involvement in an issue. The answer has always been no.
I don’t think I’ll ever shake the impulse to physically protect my children, though they are now about the same height and weight that I am and more – and have spent quite a few years sparring. I controlled the protection impulse the day of the inter-school sparring event some four years ago, but the desire to jump my son’s opponent was apparent enough to get me teased about it later.
I will face the biggest hands-off-mama-bear test of my life in a little more than a week’s time when my buck-sixty-pound son climbs into a ring with total strangers who, like him, are trying to win a medal for their sparring ability. I’ve watched many a tournament fight. They are intense, testosterone-driven battles that frequently injure and produce blood. My boy is super fast on a good day, with a wicked, flicking roundhouse kick that can take out a kidney. But he also has a propensity to drop his hands and leave the ring with blood on his face. And there’s a brain behind that face, one that I don’t want sloshing around in his head, making him punchy somewhere down the line in his life. I want him to obtain the outside validation that we all seek for skills that only matter most when publicly displayed, but I want him to live a life that’s long and healthy far more.
This is the last year that I’ll have anything to say about it, anyway. Come his eighteenth birthday, he can sign himself up for any competition he chooses. So perhaps the fact that I’m letting him find out now, while I have a say, how he measures up in full-contact competition means that the mama bear in me has already passed her greatest test.